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Interview with Peter Webber, director, Dino De Laurentiis, producer, Gaspard Ulliel, star, and Gong Li, co-star of Hannibal Rising

In Hannibal Rising, directed by Peter Webber, written by Thomas Harris and produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Gaspard Ulliel plays the adolescent version of Hannibal Lector, who exacts revenge on those who killed his family when he was very little. Gong Li plays Lady Murasaki, a friend and lover of his. Gaspard Ulliel has recently co-stared in A Very Long Engagement, Strayed, and Brotherhood of the Wolf. Director Peter Webber has previously directed Girl with a Pearl Earring. I had the privilege to interview him along with Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li, and Dino De Laurentiis.

The Weinstein Company will release Hannibal Rising nationwide on February 9th, 2007

NYC MOVIE GURU: Dino, what impressed you about Gaspard Ulliel?

DDL: I shook hands with Gaspard [Ulliel] and said, ďYou were born to be HannibalĒ. At the beginning, he was not sure whether to do it or not. What it impressed me in Gaspard, not only was he a good actor, but [there was] some mystery in his face.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Gaspard, why were you hesitant?

GU: There was a lot of pressure. Thatís why I was a bit hesitant. I knew that there would be a lot of expectations from the audience and itís such an iconic role. Itís not an easy thing to do, especially working in another language. I was a bit anxious. When I met Peter [Webber], I could see that he was very confident and, also, I felt very confident with him. When we worked on the auditions, we worked for two hours on three different scenes of the film. I liked the way he worked with me and, also, itís also kind of addictive working on this character for two hoursóyou just want to keep going. Itís such a great opportunity for me [and] amazing to work on such a complex lead character that I couldnít refuse it, even if it was a bit risky for me in the beginning. I just wanted to try and build this character.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Peter, what made you feel that Gaspard Ulliel was the right actor to play Hannibal Lector?

PW: Casting is a funny thing; itís not an exact science. You can think about it, you can try to be intellectual about it, but, a lot of the time, itís just about a gut feeling. I had a gut feeling when I did Girl with a Pearl Earring and Scarlett [Johansson] walked into the room. You just get these hairs rising up on the back of your neck. I had a similar thing with Gaspard [Ulliel]. We kissed an awful lot of frogs, [so-to-speak]. I also knew one of his old movies Les …garťs which is called Strayed over here [in the U.S.]. You can just see the precision and depth of his acting skills and he had that kind of haunting in his eyes. It felt right. Itís like dating: sometimes it feels right, sometimes it doesnít feel right.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did Hannibal Rising end up becoming a revenge story?

DDL: We wanted to show the beginning of the life of Hannibal Lector. We started to show [him] when he was 8 years old during the war. Maybe the monster [that he becomes] comes from the war. He sees his family destroyed and his sister eaten by the bad guy, [so] maybe he became a fantastic doctor and then become a killer. Then it became a revenge movie.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you add your own perspective to the film?

PW: When I look at a script that Iím working on, I donít go, ďWell, how can I put my personal stamp on this?Ē I [wonder] what is thatís good and dramatic and strong and whatís the best way to bring this to the screen. Whatís the best to light it, the best way to design it [and] the best way to direct the actors. Itís about the story and the best way to get the story up onto the screen. This is about [Thomas] Harris, [the screenwriter and] this is about Hannibal Lector and itís about me using whatever skills I have to try to make it a compelling, compulsive [and] watchable movie.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you feel the need to show the history of Hannibal Lector?

PW: I found that whole historical context fascinating. I think of this as being very much the European story, the European version, of the Hannibal Lector myth. Weíve had the American installments. Weíve gone back in time to see his origin. [Screenwriter Thomas] Harris is one of the few Americans involved in this. This is not a message movie, this is not a personal movie, but we see a parade of terrible violence and you see this awful cycle of revenge and destruction. The movie seemed to speak to me about that. It had a strong and simple message and itís graphically violent, but itís nothing compared to what we see day to day. The chance to, kind of, let some of the poison out, as I watched it day after day, is actually quite appealing as a creative person. You donít want that in your head. This was a good way for me to get it out of my head, onto the screen, and into other peopleís heads.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Gong, how would you describe the relationship between your character, Lady Murasaki, and Hannibal Lector?

GL: This character is quite complicated. The relationship between Lady Murasaki and Hannibal is indeed also quite complicated. They start off having a relationship between relatives and, after that, they gradually help each other and, by the end, their relationship has a bit of love in it as well. It was great working with Gaspard because heís a great actor. Heís very relaxed on the setómaybe even more relaxed than I am. So, a lot of things that came out of the actual performance are the result of this cooperation and coordination with opportunities to discuss things with Peter Webber and Gaspard.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Did you relate to any of the Asian elements in the film?

GL: There are some elements of Asian background in this. I was very interested to understand even more about [it] than I already did, especially the Japanese aspect of it. A lot of these things came into play as I tried to understand more and tried to convey more about why Lady Murasaki has such a strong will to survive.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Why brings Hannibal and Lady Murasaki closer together?

GL: One of the reasons why they have such a close relationship is that they have a similar background and similar feelings in their heart because of the experiences that theyíve been through.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you manage to add a sympathetic side to Hannibalís character?

GU: [It] was a very important part of the character to give this sympathetic aspect, a more human aspect to the character. Thatís one of the main goals in this film. I had a wonderful script, so I just had to follow [it]. I had to add this charming, [seductive] way of speaking sometimes, but most of my harder work was to try to be more evil and dark because this is further from me than the kid part of the character.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What kind of research did you make Gaspard do?

PW: We sent him to medical school to attend an autopsy so that he can really see what itís like when bodies are cut up. So, he come back and I thought he was going to be horrified and shocked, but, no, he came bouncing back into the room and said ďIíve got to go back.Ē

NYC MOVIE GURU: Gaspard, why did you want to go back there?

GU: I came [into the medical school] during the last week and, by that point, the bodies are completely destroyed and they didnít look real. Thatís why I had to go again on the first day of the lesson to see the fresh bodies coming in and peeled and opened. I think thatís the moment when it becomes thrilling and frightening.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Peter, how did you know how far to take the gore? How did the MPAA factor into this decision?

PW: [I wanted to make the audience] scream, to make them hide. Thatís part of what this isóitís a thrill ride. Dino [De Laurentiis] and I had a lot of conversation about exactly how much gore we wanted there and we cut back quite a lot. But when we sent it to the MPAA, they didnít change it at all. It was an artistic creative decision as to the level of goreóthe amount thatís necessary for the story [and] the amount thatís necessary to entertain people. We didnít invent the fact that people are entertained by blood spurted everywhere. We do have a pile of many more violent images that are sitting in the can. I hope to convince these guys to let me do a cut on the DVD where we show you the full, [uncut] version.

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